Academic journal article Higher Learning Research Communications

Keeping Students in by Sending Them Out: Retention and Service-Learning

Academic journal article Higher Learning Research Communications

Keeping Students in by Sending Them Out: Retention and Service-Learning

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the United States, the numbers of higher education students who drop-out of college or university and fail to graduate successfully have been alarming. The most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics indicate that in Bachelors or equivalent degree programs, only 38.1% of students who enrolled in 2004 were able to graduate within normal completion times; that is, by 2008 (2013, p. 12). In nonprofit private institutions, the completion rates were comparatively better at 52.7%, but in public universities the rate dropped to 31.4%, and in for-profit institutions the rate was as low as 20.3%. Within 150% of normal program completion times, that is by 2010, the overall rate of completion for this cohort for all types of institutions had risen to just over half at 58.4% and in twice the normal program completion time, that is by 2012, it had risen to only 60.9%. Figures for two-year certificate programs were even more alarming, with 21.2% completing in normal program time. The high attrition rates represent a loss of revenue for the institutions that enrolled the students, but of greater concern is the loss in human capital and development these figures suggest.

In the light of these statistics, student retention has been an issue of concern for colleges and universities across the USA for several decades and numerous initiatives have been undertaken to stem the flow of exiting students. Service-learning courses have been one such initiative and claims have been made about the positive impact it has on student retention. Service-learning is a pedagogical approach that connects students with the real needs in the community, where they can apply what they are learning in class and bring what they have learned from that experience back to the classroom, so that theory is applied to practice, and practice in turn enriches their knowledge and skills.

This review of the literature over the past decade explores the research findings on the connection between service-learning and student retention, and what some of the practical implications around service-learning might be that can bring about these effects. The review begins with a brief description of service-learning and its theoretical roots. This is followed by an outline of the theoretical framework on which the review is built, a framework which also informs much of the research that explores the connection between participation in service- learning experiences and retention. The review of the actual research begins with an overview of some of the most recent and representative studies that have confirmed the major tenets of the theoretical framework around student retention in settings other than service-learning, followed by a review of the research that explores these same tenets in service-learning, as well as longitudinal and comparative studies around service-learning and retention. The discussion of the findings of this review summarizes the major themes in this research literature, showing support for the notion that taking a service-learning course can have a positive impact on student retention. Suggestions are made about the practical implications of these findings and indicate where further research might be helpful.

At first glance, it may seem that asking students to go the extra step of participating in community service could be adding yet another requirement to their study load and giving them one more reason to drop out of a study program, but it seems that it can have the opposite effect. The research being reviewed here is drawn from settings in the USA because, as in other parts of the world, American higher education is organized and conducted within its own particular social, cultural, economic, historical, and political structures. It should be noted, however, that studies undertaken in other parts of the world around the same topic have in many cases yielded similar results (e. …

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